Friday, January 24, 2014

South Africa 1. Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is laid out at the foot of the Table
Mountain range. It features sculptures by local artists, in addition to
the acres of native plant displays.
In my last post, we visited Paradise on Mt. Rainier.  Today, I'm taking you to another botanical paradise
located at the far southern end of the African continent, one that you might imagine couldn't be more different from the lush alpine meadows of Washington State.  There are some parallels however.  Mt. Rainier experiences long cold winters and southern Africa experiences long dry summers, so both are botanically dreary for much of the year.  But then comes spring, and in both places it is spectacular. Melting snow in Washington and winter rains in South Africa bring spectacular displays of wildflowers.

Southern Africa is the home of the Bird-of-paradise family (Strelitztacae) On the left is a yellow variety of
Strelitzia reginae named 'Mandela's Gold' in honor of the late Nelson Mandela, the revered father of modern South Africa. On the right is the narrow-leaved species, Strelitzia juncea.

The giant Strelitzia nicolai, with white and blue
flowers, attains tree-like proportions.
Spring in South Africa comes in September and October.  I had the great fortune to visit Capetown, capital of the Western Cape Province in 1998, as an attendee at the 5th International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress.  The congress took place in the incredible Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which is dedicated to an extensive collection and display of plants native to South Africa.  Visitors from around the world flock to this garden to see this extraordinary native flora, as do many South Africans, who take great pride in their local plants.  

In this new series, I will take you to several parts of South Africa, but begin with the botanical garden itself.  One does not have to "brake for wildflowers" here, because every step of a leisurely stroll reveals something new.  South Africa is home to many species of Aloe, Pelargonium, Euphorbia, Strelitzia, Zantedeschia, Erica, and, most conspicuously, the families Proteaceae, Asteraceae, and Iridaceae. 
Leucospermum catherinae is one of many
spectacular flowering shrubs of the Proteaceae.
A mass of native white calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) dominates a boggy depression at Kirstenbosch.

Aloe plicatilis, with an odd fan-shaped leaf
arrangement is one of about 500 species of this
African genus.

Kirstenbosch is located at the foot of Table Mountain, which forms a great backdrop for many garden scenes.  The climate here is much like that of southern California, Mediterranean Europe, or southwestern Australia, with rain primarily in the winter. The natural vegetation is shrubby, with trees in some protected areas.  The shrubs are largely evergreen, and adapted to tolerate fires every few years.  In California we call this type of vegetation chaparral.  In South Africa, it's called fynbos.  Flowers on shrubs and herbaceous plants alike crowd together in massive displays during the late winter through early summer, with the peak in October.  It is in just such a climate that evolutionary botanist G. Ledyard Stebbins envisioned the origin of the flowering plants themselves.  The seasonal contrasts and the rough topography in areas of marginally adequate rainfall create numerous microhabitats and brought about the diverse vegetative forms, rapid life cycles, and dependence on animal pollinators characteristic of flowering plants in general. 
Species of Aloe dominate this section of Kirstenboxch.
Guinea fowl wander freely through the botanical garden.

The botanical garden is laid out in areas representing different regions of the country, and has a modern conservatory complex for plants requiring warmer or drier conditions than those found around Capetown.  As usual, I will end this narrative and allow the photographs to speak for themselves. 
The sky-blue flowers of  Agapanthus
, a member of the Amaryllidaceae,
are familiar to gardeners in warmer parts
of the world.

Cussonia spicata is an arborescent member of the Araliaceae. 

The bright red flowers of an arborescent species of Erythrina frame a view of
nearby moutains.
Cyrtanthus is another African genus of the
Amaryllidaceae.  This appears to be a form of
C. elatus.
One of many idyllic vistas in Kirstenbosch.
Delosperma cooperi, in the Aizoaceae, creates a mass of color at the base of Table Mountain.

Pelargonium cordifolium is one of about 200 African species
of this genus in the Geraniaceae.
Clivia is still another African garden favorite in
the Amaryllidaceae.
A large, modern conservatory houses more delicate native species.
Spring flowering geophytes are displayed in bloom in the conservatory. Geophytes include plants that
are dormant during the long hot summer and arise from bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes.